More Fun with Fire, the Dakota Fire Pit

Gareth Branwyn

Gareth Branwyn is a freelance writer and the former Editorial Director of Maker Media. He is the author or editor of over a dozen books on technology, DIY, and geek culture. He is currently a contributor to Boing Boing, Wink Books, and Wink Fun. And he has a new best-of writing collection and "lazy person's memoir," called Borg Like Me.

4007 Articles

By Gareth Branwyn

Gareth Branwyn is a freelance writer and the former Editorial Director of Maker Media. He is the author or editor of over a dozen books on technology, DIY, and geek culture. He is currently a contributor to Boing Boing, Wink Books, and Wink Fun. And he has a new best-of writing collection and "lazy person's memoir," called Borg Like Me.

4007 Articles

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Dakotastove_3[Photo via]

After I posted a piece last week about how to build a self-feeding fire, and the ensuing popularity of that post and the discussions it raised, I started poking around on YouTube looking for other interesting fire starting and fire pit techniques. It wasn’t long before I’d uncovered dozens of videos on how to build what’s known as a Dakota fire pit.

The content of the videos is all pretty much the same (the technique is quite simple), but given the “bushcraft” and survivalism channels they’re all on, many of them were wrapped in a bitter candy-coating of talk of “hiding from the enemy,” comments about “cheap hookers,” and other unpleasantness. This is one of the more innocuous demonstrations of the technique.

As the video points out, a Dakota fire pit is very easy to build. Using a camping shovel, you dig one fire hole and then a secondary vent tunnel that connects to the bottom of the first hole. This creates a flu that feeds air into the bottom of the fire. Inside the main pit, you build a fairly tight fire of small logs placed in a vertical position. The result is a small but efficient and hot-burning fire.

Dakota stove 1f[Image via]

In many of the videos I looked at, the secondary hole was dug upright, parallel to the primary pit. I had always thought that the second hole was supposed to be angled and placed in the direction of the wind, as shown in the above sketch. I’ve also seen the flat rock used over the secondary hole to control the amount of air feeding the fire.

Some of the benefits of a Dakota fire pit are that the fire is nearly smokeless (for “hiding from the enemy”), it requires less wood than other techniques, the fire is completely out of the wind, it’s quick and easy to douse (just dump the exhumed dirt back over it), and you can completely cover up your presence, even replacing the sod (so that pesky enemy will never know you’ve been there).

One thing you need to be careful of, in dousing such a fire, is to make sure it’s truly extinguished. Just dumping the dirt on it may not be enough. You can still end up with a lingering smoulder or a root fire. Use water.